Project Canvas to Paint New Picture for Britain’s Digital Homes

  • Posted on: 2 February 2010
  • By: Patrick Oliphant

bbc canvasThe canvas project is in its final stage of consultation and has been given a provisional approval by the BBC Trust. Project Canvas was setup to allow UK viewers with broadband connection to watch on their Television set on-demand TV such as BBC iPlayer and ITV Player.  Homes with compatible set-top box connected to the internet could access content provision through Canvas without needing to pay for the content.

The project is a joint partnership between the BBC and five other partners (ITV, BT, Five, C4 and Talk Talk) to develop standards based on open environment for broadband connected digital television receivers.  The BBC has already started working on the technical architecture of the propose Canvas platform with Thomson, Humax and Cisco.  In the provisional conclusion document they gave a brief sketch of what is expected as a miminum specification for the Canvas device.  These are: (i) Conditional Access (CA) - this means, like other on-demand service you will be charge or need permission to view some channels or to access individual content. (ii) Digital Right Management (DRM) (iii) The Canvas device will meet minimum storage requirement of 32GB.  The added storage is to offset the load on ISP network.  (iv) The system will build on D-Book 6.1 for digital terrestrial television.

Canvas Project has the potential to be the catalyst for Digital Britain as well as providing huge financial benefit for those involve and better viewing experience for UK households.  According to the BBC the Public Value Assessment (PVA) projected and estimated “sales of between 1.2 and 8.3 million Canvas viewers, with and expected total sales volume of 4.1 million”  They have also stated that base on current figure the BBC financial obligation will cost licences fee payer 19pence each.  Modelling done by Deloitte shows that the project stand to generate over £120 million per year by 2014 if approved by the BBC Trust.

Approval of the project, which I have no doubt will happen, stands to offer more benefits to viewers than what currently are available.  First and foremost is the flexibility to move between the different solutions on one screen is a huge benefit.  It will be free to access – this is the core of what Canvas represents.  Viewers will only need to pay for their broadband subscription; although as the project attracts more partners a broadband supplier may also be your TV supplier e.g. Talk Talk.  This might change the cost of packages offered by ISPs.
There is the opportunity for broadband providers to increase revenue by offering more services, like Sky and Virgin Media.  I can see partnerships developing between ISPs that already have the physical infrastructure and media content developer and suppliers, coming together to offer services as one package.

Canvas Project also represents some challenges for the UK on a whole. I can remember ISPs complaining about the load on their network cause by iPlayer when it was just launch.  That was just iPlayer and the BBC, what will happen when viewers are accessing content from ITV, Five, C4 and other suppliers that will join later?  Another issue which affects viewers directly is some ISPs set quotas on the amount of content that can be downloaded.  Movies and rich media content are a thousand times bigger than web pages; these customers will have to either change suppliers or the supplier will have lacks these rules on download limits.  Otherwise households will have to pay more for their broadband access.

Although Canvas access will be free, I think it will be a challenge to keep Canvas free or not allowing free content to get buried among other services.  Apart from the BBC every other partner so far are companies that have shareholders and will be looking for a return on their investment. So they will need visibility for the services.

Partner comments:

“Audiences tell us that they want more services through their television set. I am pleased that the BBC is working with industry partners such as device manufacturers, ISPs and other content providers on proposals which will bring real benefits for consumers. We are building on a history of collaborating with and supporting the industry in research and development which includes NICAM stereo, Teletext and Freeview.” Mark Thompson, Director-General of the BBC

“This proposal will bring catch-up from the PC to the TV set in your living room, and all for free. This makes convergence a reality. It will also future-proof our free-to-air platforms, Freeview and Freesat. We are delighted to be working with the BBC, BT and other ISPs to bring this idea to fruition for viewers.” Michael Grade, Executive Chairman ITV

"Television and broadband are a compelling combination. Together they can offer live TV along with an unrivalled choice of on demand content and interactive services. It will mean that you can watch what you want whenever you want on your television. We are looking forward to working with The BBC, ITV and other internet service providers to support an open standard for the free to air market in the UK." Ian Livingston, CEO, BT